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A gold standard chess player, accomplished arbitrator and a skilful swimmer. In KPC circles, these are not the kind of adjectives and nouns one can associate with Engineer Roselane Mbone Ambasi-Jilo, the widowed mother of three and one of Kenya’s finest engineers. Jason Nyantino caught up with Roselane on her way to attend a key engineers’ event in Nairobi and asked her a few questions about her rich and rewarding past. Kenpipe News brings you excerpts of this interview to mark this year’s International Women’s Day being celebrated worldwide today 8th March 2019.
Jason (J): Tell us briefly about you and your academic background.

Roselane (R): I am a widowed mother of three children, two teenagers and one youth. I schooled in Kiptuiya Primary School (Nandi County) and Kongoni Primary School (Nairobi County) before joining State House Girls High School from where I joined the University of Nairobi to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduating in 1996. In 2013, I also attained an MBA in Strategic Management from Kenya Methodist University. Currently, I am pursuing my doctorate degree in Strategic Management at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. During my free time, I play chess and occasionally swim.

J: Share with us some thoughts on your professional background.

R: I joined Engineers Registration Board as a graduate engineer in July 2004 which later changed to Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK). I also joined the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK), the professional body of engineers in Kenya. I became a registered engineer in 2010 after presenting a technical report on a project I had done. In the same year, I transited to a professional IEK engineer and ever since I have served in the professional body in different capacities.

J: What are some of the key leadership positions you have held in these professional bodies?

R: I was elected vice chairperson of IEK Western Branch in 2014 and served for two years as the first lady in that position. In 2016, I was elected Chairperson of the branch up to 2018 and during the same year, my colleagues had more confidence in me and elevated me into the position of IEK chairperson for the Coast Region, a position I still hold to date. I am actually the first and the only lady who has served in this position. Being a male-dominated field, I thank my colleagues for believing in my potential.

Besides being an ERC-licensed class A1 electrician, the highest level of licensing that authorises one to undertake all types of electrical installations be it in the industry, entertainment places or buildings, I have also done an introductory course in Arbitration under the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb)

J: How many years have you worked for KPC and what is your current job title and station?

R: Now the Senior Electrical Engineer Coast Region stationed at Changamwe (PS1), I joined KPC on 1st December, 1997 so that makes it 21 years and still counting. I am a senior Kenya Power-authorised person to do high voltage switching up to 132KV.

J: How can you describe your stay at KPC? Please include some of the notable changes in the company over the years.

R: KPC is like my second home having worked there for over two decades. Unfortunately, one thing I have noticed with KPC is that the longer one stays in the company, the harder the upward mobility. But all in all, the company has greatly expanded both in infrastructure and structure. When I joined, there were only three pipelines: Mombasa – Nairobi (Line 1), Nairobi – Eldoret (Line 2) and Sinendet-Kisumu (Line 3). Currently, we have up to six cross county pipelines with a spur line supplying shippers directly from Kipevu and Konza Petrocity. Our storage capacity has more than doubled positioning KPC as a key regional player in the petroleum sub-sector. In addition, with the coming into the fray of Morendat Institute of Oil and Gas to build skills capacity in our sector, the future is looking bright.

J: What are some of the major projects that you have been part of in KPC?

R: Over the last couple of years, KPC has undertaken a number of essential petroleum infrastructure projects to enhance the availability of fuel in Kenya and neighbouring countries. It has been deeply fulfilling to be part of these projects. Some of the key projects that I have been part of alongside my fellow engineers are the new Mombasa-Nairobi pipeline (Line 5), Eldoret bottom loading facility, and the Capacity enhancement project on the old Mombasa-Nairobi pipeline (Line1). I was also instrumental in the design and installation of solar power cathodic protection stations along Line I in regions where there is no low voltage power supply in 2006 to 2007, and the Kipevu Oil Storage Facility (KOSF) upgrade project that brought in additional tanks, pumpsets and associated pipelines

J: What has been your highest moment in KPC?

R: My highest moment is when we finally completed and operationalized Line 5, the second largest single project in Kenya after the Standard Gauge Railway. This project had experienced major delays when the company Board and Management saw it fit to send 5 senior engineers as site team leaders in strategic stations to ensure that implementation remained on course. I am proud to say that I was one of those engineers and the only lady.
While the task was challenging, the end results were a great joy to the entire project team and KPC fraternity because the line is now fully operational. I thank the KPC Board and management for this singular honour.

J: What has been your lowest moment in KPC?

R: The lowest moment is when I am unfairly denied that which I consider I fairly deserve. This can best be described by the “Equity Theory”

J: There is no doubt that the engineering field is male-dominated in Kenya. What message do you have for young women who want to pursue a career in engineering?

R: Engineering is an interesting career. I would like to tell ladies not to settle for their first degree only. Get soft skills that will blend very well with engineering training. Get active in professional bodies. Prove yourself worth of the calling and you will never realise that you are in a male dominated career.

J: Do you think our high schools do enough to motivate girls to pursue science and technology courses? You may share how and why you pursued electrical engineering in university.

R: Quite a number of girls’ schools have embraced the teaching of science and technology. There are also organizations that have been visiting schools and encouraging girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. In my case, I used to excel in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. This greatly shaped my career path. Besides, I had two brothers who graduated with BSc. Mechanical Engineering and Bsc. Electrical Engineering. My father too was in Civil Engineering and I can say I had role models right in my doorstep.

J: Besides being an engineer, what are you passionate about?

R: I am passionate about arbitration and that is why I have pursued a course in arbitration. I would like to pursue this area more until the final level. I am also interested in management from implementation to policy formulation. This passion developed when I served in the Technical University of Mombasa council as member and vice chairperson between 2011 and 2017.

J: What will someone find you engaging in during your free time?

R: My hobbies are travelling and site seeing. I like discovering new places during my holidays. I also play chess and a bit of swimming. I am also passionate about my spiritual health and I actively serve God in my local church.

J: Tell us about your love affair with chess.

R: I started playing chess while in primary school and by the time I was joining university, I was in the Kenyan Chess team! In fact, my first passport was for representing Kenya in the 1990 world tournament in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. By the time I stopped playing chess tournaments 1997, I was the best Kenyan lady chess player with numerous chess trophies to boot.

J: Do you have any other comment that you may want to share?

R: I always encourage my colleagues to be diligent and passionate in whatever they do. Even if you don’t see the fruits of what you are doing now, you will reap the benefits in the future. There is a lot of joy when you see good results in something you have put your best in.